Windsor, Australia: contrasts

Finding a greater contrast would be difficult.

Drive one direction and it feels like you’ve entered a time warp, whirling back to the early 1800’s.

Head the other way and you’re soon in a futuristic landscape of sweeping concrete and steel.

Welcome to the Windsor district of eastern Australia, an area that offers a snapshot of colonial times, with many grand examples of 19th century British architecture.

At the same time, the area also features Australia’s biggest public transport project, the sleek, multi-billion dollar Sydney Metro NorthWest rail link.

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Sydney Metro

Courtesy Plenary Group

This stark contrast between the old and the new, is a reminder that, although Windsor is a wonderful link to Australia’s colonial past, it is also on the edge of the Sydney beltway – a bustling, modern commuter channel.

But it was the Windsor of the 1800’s that we came to find.

Our ancestors were humble farmers in the area when it was Australia’s third city, a settlement established to provide fresh produce for the fledgling penal colony of Sydney.

Many of their graves can be found in the pioneer cemetery at nearby Wilberforce, which stands in the shadow of Australia’s oldest church, dating to 1809.

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Sue’s ancestors, in particular, hold a special and prominent place in the local community, descending from Australia’s first group of free settlers.

Thomas and Jane Rose and their four children – originally from rural Dorset in England – had arrived in the colony in 1793 and started farming in the Windsor area about 1802.

‘Rose Cottage’, their house at Wilberforce, built in 1811, remains the oldest slab timber dwelling on its original site in Australia.

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After exploring the pioneer cemetery, we headed for one of Windsor’s best known landmarks, the Macquarie Arms hotel, which claims to be the oldest pub in mainland Australia.

Sitting high above the Hawkesbury River, the pub certainly has an olde worlde feel, complete with resident ghosts – or perhaps that should be ‘spirits’.

First licensed in 1815 and operated continuously ever since, apart from the period between 1840-1874, the Macquarie Arms was built by convicts who are said to have constructed tunnels between the building and the river for secretly transporting illegal rum.

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Courtesy Macquarie Arms Hotel and Gary Bell Pub Sketches.

Whether it is really the oldest pub on the Australian mainland seems to depend on who you ask. Apparently, colonial Sydney was brimming with ‘sly grog’ shops and hotels from about 1800 onwards.

One thing is for certain: the old pub is just one of many colonial buildings in Windsor still in use.

These include the local court house, designed by famous colonial architect Sir Francis Greenway and built in 1822; several historic churches; Windsor post office; and any number of grand Victorian mansions.

And, to prove that the area was indeed a land of opportunity, there’s Thompson Square which was named after a convict pioneer who went on to become a magistrate at law.

Next on our list was a visit to Rose Cottage which is truly a priceless piece of Australian heritage, followed by a tour of the adjoining Australiana Pioneer Village which strives to promote the area’s history.

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The village combines historic buildings and demonstrations of traditional crafts.

Both these attractions are maintained by hard-working groups of volunteers.

Windsor is on the north-western outskirts of Sydney, about 56 kilometres from the city centre.

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A forgotten train

Australia Day is held each January: a time for Aussies to, once again, reflect on the country’s achievements.

However, at about the same time, an important milestone in the field of Aussie transportation usually slips by unnoticed in our home city of Newcastle, New South Wales.

It’s headed for 190 years since the railway came to Australia – not far from where we’re now standing.

On December 10, 1831, the Australian Agricultural Company officially opened the continent’s first rail line on high ground overlooking the fledgling British settlement that is now the bustling eastern sea port of Newcastle.

A gravitational railway

Australia’s first railway was established specifically to carry coal Newcastle’s A Pit to ships awaiting loading in the Hunter River. Cast iron rails carried wagons on what is technically known as an ‘inclined plane gravitational railway’.

Today, this would probably be called a ‘cable railway’, where a trip downhill is powered by a wagon coming back uphill on an adjoining track.

On a gravitational railway, the weight of the loaded descending cars is used to lift the ascending empties. A well known Australian example is the scenic railway – shown in the main photo on this page – at Katoomba, west of Sydney. This railway was also initially used to haul coal.

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Another example is the Monongahela Incline, at Mount Washington, Pennsylvania, in the US (shown above)

After the railway arrived in Australia at what is now Brown and Church Streets, Newcastle, it was another 23 years before the first steam-driven railway appeared between Melbourne and Port Melbourne.

From then, the railway systems of the various colonies developed rapidly.

Meanwhile, the humble beginnings of rail at Newcastle also played a key role in the development of the nation’s coal industry and Newcastle as Australia’s biggest coal port.

A load sent from Newcastle to India was Australia’s first export shipment – and in December 2016, for example, coal shipments from the port of Newcastle hit a record 15.9 million tonnes.

Credits: Main photo courtesy Flickr, Wikimedia and Charlie Brewer; Mt Washington photo courtesy Wikimedia and pennsyloco

Aussie stories

Stark reminder of bridge collapse

On a picturesque section of Australia’s Mitchell Highway, travellers often stop at an unusual roadside sculpture made largely of twisted metal beams.

The ‘Gateway’ sculpture is a rare reminder of a tumultuous day – almost three decades ago – that cut a key rural road link in New South Wales, the most populous State in Australia,

On January 6, in 1989, a truck carrying machinery for digging trenches was travelling along the Mitchell highway when it approached the town of Wellington, in the State’s central-west.

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As it crossed the Macquarie River on the town’s fringe, the truck and the 70-year-old highway bridge collided – sending the roadway plunging into the water below.

The truck also dropped into the river, but miraculously no one was killed.

In a few moments and a gigantic cloud of dust, Wellington was cut almost in two – and a major traffic artery to the State’s north west was severed.

Politicians quickly converged on the site to determine what could be done to reopen the major thoroughfare.

Lengthy diversions were soon set up around the area and Wellington residents used the adjoining railway bridge to get between the town proper and the area of Montefiores, across the river.

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After some emergency work, cars were eventually able to drive across the rail bridge.

We were far away when the bridge dropped – but Wellington is our hometown, so we travelled there in the weeks after the incident and experienced at first hand the isolation and frustration caused by the closure of such a vital road link.

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Although Wellington’s commercial sector suffered from the loss of passing traffic and isolated rural areas, wily entrepreneurs were able to tap into widespread publicity by producing T-shirts to mark the bridge collapse.

Meanwhile, a low-level pontoon bridge was installed about 500 metres downstream by engineers from the Australian Army, thus re-opening the highway link.

Vehicles continued using the low-level crossing until the Macquarie bridge was replaced in December 1991.

Wellington is located 354 kilometres north-west of Sydney via the Great Western and Mitchell Highways. The ‘Gateway’ sculpture can be found about eight kilometres south of the town.

As a direct result of the collapse, authorities undertook a comprehensive safety audit of similar bridges throughout the State of New South Wales.

Photos of the collapsed Macquarie Bridge and the temporary rail crossing are courtesy of The Wellington Times and Marie Hoffman

Aussie stories

In our backyard

After 22 years, it still astonishes us.

We live only 20 minutes from the centre of a big Australian regional city, but our front door looks onto farmland, rolling green hillsides, towering gum trees and astonishing birdlife.IMG_0559

Newcastle is a bustling tourism and industrial city on Australia’s eastern coastline, about two hours from Sydney.

The second biggest city in the state of New South Wales, it sits around a busy working harbour, with plenty of river and beach scenery.

Newcastle is also framed by hills and Lake Macquarie, the largest saltwater coastal waterway in Australia.

When our neighbourhood was developed in the city suburb of New Lambton Heights, local authorities had the good sense to set aside a section of bushland and rainforest as a community park immediately above our house.IMG_0558

Some landowners followed suit and, to date, have preserved a ribbon of former farmland.

This sums up what is In Our Backyard : a backdrop of towering gum trees, running streams and native birds mingling with the vibrant colours and scents of the lavenders, bottlebrush shrubs and camellias in the many big gardens.

We look out on native bushland from front and back and our street ends in fields and paddocks, creased by rocky outcrops and thick scrub.IMG_0562

It’s an honour to live amongst such natural splendour and even more so because we can still enjoy the attractions of the city literally right at our doorstop.

But, it is the community park that really adds the icing to the cake.

A refuge from the heat of the Australian summer and an ideal place to walk the dog or kick a football with the grandchildren, this parkland is our own little Wonderland – something treasured by the neighbourhood.

There is an open grassed area containing a picnic table and swings for the children.

But, the formal park area is surrounded on three sides by a green wall of white ‘ghost gums’, vines, creepers and strips of rainforest so dense that you cannot see more than two metres into the bush.IMG_0557

The area is dissected by a small creek that bubbles past, also unseen but audible clearly amid the tangle of nature.

We often visit just before sunset when the final rays of the day streak down between the trees and the bush turkeys come to the fringe of the scrub to scratch for food.

It’s a delight to sit quietly absorbing the beauty and solitude and listening to the chorus of birds farewelling the day.

Australia is truly blessed with natural birdlife and our backyard is fortunate to attract many species.

The ‘ping’ of Bellbirds; chatter of finches, sparrows and honey eaters; and coo of bush doves is ever present.

On most days, we catch sight of brightly coloured Rosellas and numerous species of bush parrots and, if we are lucky, there are also Kookaburras, whose distinctive laughter echoes back and forth through the area.

The area In Our Backyard also offers a superb front row seat to the legendary Australian sunsets, when the skies put on a show the equal of anywhere in the globe.

Our Backyard is special to us, but I doubt any words could adequately do it justice.

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Australian sunrise

The east coast of the Australian mainland is blessed with some of the most stunning natural scenery imaginable.

Pristine white sands and rolling waves makes some of the finest  beaches on the planet.

And never is this wonderland displayed quite like sunrise, when golden rays snake across the Pacific Ocean to illuminate the Australian coastline.

It’s a special time in a special destination.

Newcastle Beach, New South Wales

P1020766Surfers Paradise beach, Queensland

IMG_0803Sydney Harbour, New South Wales

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Palm Cove, Queensland

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Courtesy Wikimedia Commons and PeterEdson

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Courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Me-myself

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Photo posts

Review: Hunter Wetlands Centre, Australia

A wetlands centre at Newcastle, Australia, continues to play an important role in bird conservation.

The Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia has helped reverse a decline in Magpie Geese across the north-eastern areas of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state.

Although black-and-white Magpie Geese are abundant in Australia’s northern regions, they became less common in the south, where habitat reduced. P1010403Keen to tackle the decline, Hunter Wetlands Centre obtained 41 Magpie Geese in 1987 – and increased the flock steadily over the next five years.

The geese at the centre bred for the first time in 1992 and new juveniles can now be seen almost every year as a clear indication of the success of the re-introduction program.

Helping threatened ducks too

The centre also works to conserve threatened Freckled Ducks.P1010411Helping save these vulnerable bird species is just one of  many achievements at Hunter Wetlands Centre, which is set to celebrate three decades of operation in 2015.

Set to celebrate 30 years

In those 30 years, the centre, which is located in the Newcastle suburb of Shortland, has come from a former landfill rubbish site to an internationally recognised wetland education facility.P1010402At one stage, more than 2,200 trees were planted as the site was rehabilitated and landscaped.

Hundreds of bird species

A total of 217 bird species have been recorded at the centre.

This includes 72 typical wetland species, including 67 waterbirds and nine migratory waders.

Honking geese a hit

When we visited the centre, the colonies of Magpie Geese – with their distinctive honking call – were just one of the many fascinating attractions.

P1010409With grandchildren in tow, we headed firstly for the visitor centre, which contains in interpretative display area and a popular cafe.

Live reptile display

The live reptile displays and interactive reptile talks went over a treat – even if we were a little tentative handling the snakes.

Next, it was time to watch the bird feeding and explore the adventure playground before we held our own picnic close to the wetland area and the ever-popular geese.P1010415Plenty to see and do

Hunter Wetlands Centre boasts plenty of activities, including walking trails and guided walking tours; canoe hire and guided tours; Segway tours; a bush tucker garden; bike hire; and special activities in school holidays.

It also stages a popular ‘Breakfast with the Birds’ program each Sunday, as well as night visits to the wetlands area and canoeing with experienced guides.P1010404Love to return

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the centre and hope to return at some stage to review one or more of these innovative activities.

The wetlands centre is also rapidly gaining a reputation for its nursery, which boasts the capacity to produce over 100,000 plants a year.

How to get there

Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia is located at Newcastle, New South Wales. The centre is about 10 minutes from the heart of the city and is about two hours north of Sydney. You can get there by car train and bus.

Check these directions.

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